Why I’m talking to white people about race

Because I am a trans woman.

Because when I was about to transition, I was representing at about a hundred tribunals a year, and decided the tribunal members should be told, so that my change did not distract them from my client’s case. After one hearing I went back in to tell the tribunal I would transition, and ask how to notify other panel members. When I explained, the doctor on the panel said that tribunals do not discriminate on any ground, and I saw the shutters close behind his eyes as he said it.

You can see their eyes shut down and harden, wrote Reni Eddo-Lodge, in Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race. It’s precisely the same experience. Because there are quotes from people on the back endorsing the book, and all of them are people of colour, apart from Paris Lees, a white trans woman- who is also the only person allowed to be herself, a recognisable name, “Paris Lees” not “Marlon James, winner of the Man Booker Prize 2015”. In that list of endorsements, the men come first, then the women.

Because all that stuff about telling people before we transition is problematic. Human Resources might get an expert in, to give training to the staff members- “Stephen is going to transition. From 25 April, she will be known as Clare”- as if this was something weird or unusual which no-one had ever heard of before, or the correct pronoun to use was in some way difficult or complicated. To give people a chance to ask the intrusive, insulting questions, so that they would not have an excuse to for months afterwards- “Are you going to have the operation?” If you want to find out about trans, there’s this thing called the internet. There are even books!

Because we know this stuff, and yet we still face it. “People talk to my husband over my head,” said the woman in the wheelchair. Oh, God. “‘Does he take sugar?'”- disabled people have been complaining about this, framing it, mocking it, pointing it out, with simple phrases to lodge in people’s heads, for decades, and it still happens. Or my friend suffers this:

-Where are you from?
-Wolverhampton.
-No, where are you really from?

Wolverhampton. Really. We have been getting closer to mere courtesy for some time. We said Asian people, then Asian origin, now Asian heritage– because they were born here, as were their parents in many cases, so they are not Asian nor do they originate in Asia. We do need to label these matters still, because people of colour can’t be colour-blind, they notice that they stand out, that white is the default normal- just as trans women stand out. She still gets “Where are you really from?”

For so long, the bar of racism has been set by the easily condemnable activity of white extremists and white nationalism, writes Eddo-Lodge, and I feel yet again the recognition I feel, over and over again, reading her book.

There have been black people in Britain for millennia- the first colonists, walking over Doggerland, were black, there were Roman soldiers from Africa, black sailors in our ports-

slaves

and lots of black immigration in the 1950s, because the mill-owners of Lancashire, rather than investing in new plant and equipment, wanted to keep costs down by employing immigrants. There were century-old looms working in mills closing in the ’90s. So the hard work for diversity and acceptance of all people came from people of colour first, and GSD (Gender and Sexuality Diversity, I still feel the need to explain that abbreviation and wish I did not have to, straight publications even spell out LGBT) rode on their coat-tails.

Because everybody benefits from acceptance of diversity.

Because I see people being wronged, and their fight is my fight. The book is excellent. It gives history. Muriel Fletcher, reporting on “The Colour Problem in Liverpool” in 1930, said white women who married black men fell into four categories: “the mentally weak, the prostitutes, the young and reckless, and those forced into marriage because of illegitimate children”. That’s vile. Her use of the word “half-caste” has contributed to its use today.